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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Grisette \Gri*sette"\, n. [F., fr. grisette a gray woolen cloth, fr. gris gray. Grisettes were so called because they wore gray gowns made of this stuff. See Gars.] A French girl or young married woman of the lower class; more frequently, a young working woman who is fond of gallantry.


n. A French girl or young married woman of the lower class; especially, a young working-class woman of perceived easy morals.


The word grisette may mean:

  • Grisette (person), a working-class woman, originally French, or later, good-time girl
  • the Eurasian minnow

Any of several species of gill mushrooms in the otherwise poisonous genus Amanita:

  • Grisette, Amanita vaginata
  • Snakeskin grisette, Amanita ceciliae
  • Tawny grisette, Amanita fulva
Grisette (person)

The word grisette (sometimes spelled grizette) has referred to a French working-class woman from the late 17th century and remained in common use through the Belle Époque era, albeit with some modifications to its meaning. It derives from gris, ( French for grey), and refers to the cheap grey fabric of the dresses these women originally wore. The 1694 edition of the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française described a grisette as simply "a woman of lowly condition". By the 1835 edition of the dictionary, her status had risen somewhat. She was described as:

"a young working woman who is coquettish and flirtatious."

This usage can be seen in one of Oliver Wendell Holmes' early poems 'Our Yankee Girls' (1830):

"the gay grisette, whose fingers touch love's thousand chords so well...".

In practice, "young working woman" referred primarily to those employed in the garment and millinery trades as seamstresses or shop assistants, the few occupations open to them in 19th century urban France, apart from domestic service. The sexual connotations which had long accompanied the word are made explicit in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1976) which lists one of its meanings as a young woman who combines part-time prostitution with another occupation. Webster's quotes an example from Henry Seidel Canby's 1943 biography of Walt Whitman:

"and many years later [Whitman] was still talking to Traubel of the charm of the dusky grisettes who sold love as well as flowers on the streets of New Orleans."

Usage examples of "grisette".

Possibly by the last grisette, very old and now janitress in the neighborhood.

A balcony ran outside, and on this in the evening we used to stand and smoke and flick paper balls on to the heads of the grisettes and the bonnes passing far underneath.

Leon, while studying law, had gone pretty often to the dancing-rooms, where he was even a great success amongst the grisettes, who thought he had a distinguished air.

There, your chosen persona of the Consumptive Grisette will doubtless melt many tender hearts.